Like other art forms, video games can be both a mirror and a candle held up to our culture, at times reflecting it and at times revealing things about it. Normally I direct my posts primarily at people: therapists, gamers, educators, parents. But today I want to include the company that produces World of Warcraft as well. We have a crisis regarding thinking, and although I don’t think WoW created it at all, it has reflected it in a recent game mechanic change.
I am referring to a change mages that happened recently, where the spell Evocation was replaced by Rune of Power. For people not familiar with the game, here’s a simple explanation. Mages cast spells, but spells require an energy called mana, which gets used up gradually as you cast spells. How much mana you start with depends on your character’s intellect, and once you have used up your mana, you can’t cast any more spells until it is replenished. To replenish it you can either wait and it will gradually return (not the greatest idea in combat,) or eat and drink (not possible while you are in combat.) Or you could in the older days cast Evocation, which meant you stood in place as the spell was going, gain 15% of your total mana instantly and another 45% of your total mana over 6 sec. Move or get attacked, and the spell broke.
This recently was replaced with Rune of Power, which places a rune on the ground, which lasts for 1 min. While standing within 5 yds of it, your mana regeneration is increased by 75% and your spell damage is increased by 15%. You have to keep remembering to replace it every minute, but that’s not the problem. It may even be an easier game mechanic, but that’s not the problem either. My problem with it is how it reflects our dysfunctional attitude about thinking, and specifically our tendency to think of thinking as separate from doing something.
We live in a culture where people frequently worry about things, and in fact have ruminations that are intrusive. Many people report feeling hijacked by their minds with worrying or intrusive thoughts. And yet at the same time, few of us seem to mark our time and set it aside specifically for thinking. We schedule appointments to do things, but thinking isn’t one of them. We treat thinking, which is intangible, as if it can occur in the same space as doing other activities that are more observable and tangible. And then we are surprised when our minds rebel and hijack our thinking with thoughts and feelings that come unbidden, when all along we have been failing to cultivate the practice of intentional, mindful thinking about things.
This is where I think Blizzard and Wow initially had it right with Evocation. It was acknowledging an important truth, that Thinking IS doing something, and when done intentionally it occupies time and has benefits. Sure you weren’t able to do other things while casting Evocation, but isn’t that the point? In the real world, when you want to think deeply and seriously about something, you really do need to be intentional about it, and make a space in your day to do it. Rune of power definitely embraces the multitasking model, which encourages you to set up a rune and then go about your other business while keeping half an eye on it to know when to refresh. Multitasking is not inherently a bad thing, but there are times and places that intentional thinking may be more appropriate and less anxiety-provoking.
Part of helping patients learn to manage worrying is often to help them set up a specific time for worrying about things. This “worry time” can be a placeholder in the day or week which the patient uses when an intrusive worry enters into their thinking: They can dismiss it by deciding to put that on the agenda for the scheduled worry time. This is a way of training your mind to be intentional about what you choose to think about and when. But implicit in this is the idea that training your mind to think about things intentionally is a learned skill.
You can apply this to many different aspects of your life and work. If you are growing your private practice, when was the last time you set aside an hour to think deeply about your business plan or clinical focus. I’m not talking about daydreaming here, I’m talking about sustained intentional thought. Clinically, do you set aside supervision time to think deeply about patients? As students do you take 15 minutes after each article to think specifically about the reading? As parents, when was the last time you said to your co-parent, let’s make a time to think together about how our child is doing in life at home and school. Classroom teachers, when was the last time you asked students to take 5 minutes and think quietly about the classroom topic?
Another challenge here is the confusion of tongues around the concept of thinking. Self-help gurus often exhort us to stop thinking about things and JUST DO IT. But I don’t think they are talking about intentional thinking, I think they are talking about reactive or intrusive thinking. Procrastination is reactive thinking, worrying can be intrusive thinking. Those are often roadblocks to success, but the form of thinking I have been referring to is perhaps better described as a form of concentration meditation. Concentration meditation has come to be seen by many of us as concentrating on an image, or a candle, or chanting, or a revered object, but that is not necessarily the case, and in fact it is limiting.
What if your idea is the revered object? What if your thought process about your work, child, patient, class is worthy of your undivided attention? What if you were to schedule a specific time to think about a certain project?
If you are one of those detractors who say, “I just don’t have time to think,” I don’t buy it. Thinking time is not a luxury item, although it may be a learned discipline to set aside a few minutes at a time to do it. So please take a second and schedule a time on your calendar to think about an idea that is important to you. Schedule a time to hold your random worries and thoughts and show up at that appointed time to seriously consider them. I suspect this will free up more mental space and time than you may imagine.
And please Blizzard, bring back Evocation. I miss it, and the important life lesson in mindfulness it has to teach us.